-by Randi Sayles, Pharm.D., BCACP, one of the Clinical Pharmacists at Orange City Area Health System
It’s that time of year again. The weather is cooling and we are starting to see an increase in infections. Often times, patients come to the clinic looking for an antibiotic to cure their illness. Evidence is available showing a large amount of infections are viral in nature (not bacterial) and do not require antibiotics. While your child might not need an antibiotic this time, eventually they will.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medications we give patients to treat infections caused by bacteria. Since many infections we see in the clinic are caused by viruses, these antibiotics won’t work on the virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates over half of all antibiotics that are prescribed are not necessary. As seen in the chart (below), many common illnesses (sore throat, common cold/runny nose, bronchitis) are often caused by viruses and do not need antibiotics. In fact, antibiotics will not help these conditions, but may lead to resistance in the future.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Bacteria are smart. The bacteria in your body can change in their structure or function to “beat” the antibiotics we prescribe. Since the antibiotics we use target those bacteria, if they change, the antibiotics can’t work how they were made to work. This causes the bacteria to continue to grow and become harder to treat. The antibiotics may eventually lose their ability to treat infections.
How can you (the patient) help prevent resistance?
The first thing you can do to prevent antibiotic resistance is to avoid illness altogether. To do this, we recommend preventative strategies such as proper hand washing, staying up-to-date on vaccines, and staying home when you are ill to avoid spreading to others.
When you are ill, we still encourage you to go in and be seen by a provider if you feel your symptoms are not improving. It is important to have an evaluation done to determine if your illness is viral or bacterial. If your provider feels the illness is viral, trust them. We recommend you do not insist on an antibiotic if your provider feels you have a viral illness (it will not cure the virus and may make the antibiotic ineffective for future infections). Ask your provider what you can use to treat the symptoms of your viral illness (for example: pain medications, cough drops, etc.). If your provider feels you have a bacterial infection and you are prescribed an antibiotic, make sure you finish the entire course, even if you feel better after a couple days. Those bacteria can stick around in your body, even if you feel better. If you stop your antibiotic too soon, the bacteria could come back worse than before, and that antibiotic may no longer work (“antibiotic resistance”). You should never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. In addition, we recommend not taking antibiotics left over from a previous infection.
So, while your child might not need an antibiotic now, they may need one later. When they do need it, we want it to work!